Changeling’s Island – Snippet 24

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Tim was rather surprised to find, the next day, that he’d actually forgotten that his mother had promised to call. It was just as well, because he would have had to be patient, instead of being busy with the jobs on the farm, and thinking about the flounder-spearing. It was just so…more than cool.

When the phone rang he had a faintly guilty start. Melbourne, yeah. It would be good…Except it was Jon McKay and not his mother. “Yes,” said his grandmother. “He’s here. But I don’t know yet for how long.”

She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “He’s asking if yer want a job. His deckie is away for a couple of weeks.”

“Oh, wow!”

His grandmother gave one of her rare smiles. “We’ll talk to his mother, ‘n’ get back to you.”

McKay obviously said something.

His grandmother nodded. “Right, then. Later.”

She put the phone down. “He says it’ll be hard yakka. Yer can go along with them tomorrow and see if yer want to do it, and he can see if yer up to it. Are yer?”

“I’ll try. No. I won’t just try. I will be!”

“Then we better call yer mother. Yer probably won’t be able to.”

Great. I’ve spent months wanting to get out of here, and just when I’ve finally got something here I really want to do, I am going to leave.

Tim called his mother. “Oh, Tim dear,” she said, before he got a word in edgeways. “I am sorry. I’ve sent your father three texts. And an e-mail. He’s supposed to pay for these things. I really can’t afford it.”

“Well, um, would you mind if I…only came a bit later? It’s just I’ve been offered a job I really want to take…if I can.”

He was surprised at the relief in her reply. “Oh, that would be fine. You’d just be sitting around in the flat here. I had been thinking of taking some time off. I really could use a holiday, and Mar…Mary-Lou invited me to go to Queensland.” There was an awkward pause, and then then his mother continued hastily. “Um. She’s found a great package deal, only a thousand five hundred for the week, but it is sharing a room.”

That would have paid his flights a few times, thought Tim crossly, before a thought about going to sea with McKay pushed it away instead. He was thinking about that, as Mum rattled on about manicures and stuff. It might as well be in Latin for how much of it Tim understood, but then she said, “Oh. I met that girl from the island, Hailey, when I was having a pedicure. She said she had to go over there for a week or ten days before they fly to Switzerland for some skiing.”

Tim didn’t actually know quite what to say. Or quite what to feel.

Then his grandmother took the telephone from his hands. “I want ta see his report,” she said curtly. Tim hadn’t realized how much Nan really didn’t like his mum until he heard her speak. “I’m looking after him. If anything needs to be done, I’m going to need to see to it.”

“I’ll post it,” Tim heard his mother say. “But he’s done fine. Better than at St. Dominic’s in fact.”

“Yer do that. Goodbye.”

She put the phone down. “I guess you can work for McKay tomorrow. But yer to promise me yer keep that knife by you. All the time. That seal-woman is scared of it.”

Tim nodded, even if the “seal-woman” stuff was more of Gran’s craziness.

“What’s she up to?” asked his grandmother, in the tone that she reserved for Tim’s mother.

“She says she’s going to Queensland with…with a friend.”

“New boyfriend,” said his grandmother with a scowl.

Tim had to wonder if she wasn’t right. Something about the “Mary-Lou” had seemed a bit odd. For a few minutes he felt abandoned. Pushed out. But then Nan had him go out to the shed to try on some old oilskins that might do for wearing at sea if it rained, and got to talking about sailing herself, as a little girl. It was something she’d not done before, and it was different enough to distract him. She plainly knew a lot about it, he realized, fitting his little experience into what she said.

The weeks leading to Christmas were something of a blur for Tim, looking back. He’d never been so tired in all his life. He just wasn’t quite strong enough for a lot of what he had to do, so he made up for it with extra effort. He had to haul bags of abalone onto the boat, knock all the smaller shellfish and seaweed off the shells and at the same time move the boat after the man diving, making sure the air-hose was never dragging. He wasn’t too sure what he was doing, so made up for it with extra concentration. And Jon McKay kept expecting him to learn new stuff. He started asking Tim tides, currents, and about where a good drift would be, from about the third day. Tim learned to spot the littlest things that could give him clues. He wanted to get it right. And it was really satisfying when he did.

By the time he got back to the farm every night it was all he could do to eat and wash before he fell asleep. Nan’s ABC radio was something he heard for ten seconds before sleep. He’d thought quite a lot about Hailey the day his mum had told him she was coming, but, like his report card, after starting work with Mckay, he forgot about her, and it.

He loved every moment of being out at sea, loved the boat, loved the way it responded to the sea, loved the sounds and smell and feel of it. He didn’t really know why, but…it just felt good. But he was still glad for the two days when the weather was too bad, and work was merely three hours of boat maintenance and cleaning. He was so tired those were like a holiday.

Two days before Christmas, McKay stopped shipping, and Tim got paid. It added a lot to the neck pouch. “I guess you’ll be able to buy a few more presents,” said Jon, with a grin. “Speaking of which, I have one for you. With my talent for wrapping stuff up, it’s still in the box they sent it in. You can pop it under the Christmas tree. Don’t get overexcited. I don’t have much experience of buying presents. I always buy Rob and my dad a bottle of Scotch, and my mother chocolates. And Louise I make a mess of.” Louise was Jon’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. She was an artist who spent most of her time in Hobart. She’d just come over for the Christmas break, and so far Tim had decided he really didn’t like her. She was beautiful, he supposed. But she wore loads of tinkling jewelry and talked about opera, or ballet, or art, and not about fish and the sea.

“I really feel bad now. I haven’t got you anything,” said Tim awkwardly.

Jon just laughed. “Didn’t expect you to. Rob’s back after New Year, but he’s prone to taking Monday off sick, and sometimes Friday too, so I might give you a call. And Mally is coming over again at the end of January. He’ll want to go fishing again.”

“I’d be keen!” said Tim, grinning. “We can teach him a thing or two.”

“Heh. I know you would. You’ll have to fish off the beach in the meanwhile.”

Tim was thinking about this, about what he could possibly get McKay for Christmas, walking down the track to the farmhouse, when he realized there was a vehicle behind him.

It was a police ute.